Leviticus 9–11: Confidently entering God’s presence with reverence

Because of God’s grace, we can enter God’s presence “boldly” because the perfection of Yeshua the Mashiakh (Jesus the Christ) has covered our “uncleanness.” The distinction between “clean” and “unclean” is powerfully presented by the tragic events of Leviticus 9-10 and the parable of allowable foods in Leviticus 11.

The Torah reading שּׁמיני Shemini (“eighth,” Leviticus 9–11) illustrates the pervasive problem of being internally “unclean” and approaching God presumptuously while so. Yeshua warned against that in the parable of the wedding garment and the recorded confrontation over paying Roman taxes (Matt. 22:2–21).

Shemini comes from Hebrew for eight: שְׁמֹנֶה shemoneh (H8083). That is related to the verb שמן shaman, which means to be fat, full, fullness, or plenty. So, shemoneh carries the meaning of something reaching its fullness, flowing over and going beyond. It’s completeness and then some.

What is filling up here? Where do we first see the number eight? Eight is associated in the Bible with new beginnings.

8 enter Noakh’s ark

The first mention of eight is the eight people who entered the Ark to survive the Flood (Gen 7:7; 7:13; 1Pet. 3:20). Noach and his family were a new beginning for mankind, both spiritually and physically. Spiritually, those eight were the family of the righteous trusting in God’s words.

Physically, those eight were a genetic “bottleneck.” Today, we find one major line of the X chromosome ― Noach and his sons ― and three mitochondrial DNA lines ― that of Noach’s wife and the wives of his sons’ wives.

Eighth day circumcised

The next reference to eight is in regards to Abraham and his family where rather than speaking to specific people such as Enoch or Noah, God is setting aside a family to be his ambassadors on the earth. This is when God commanded Abraham to circumcise boys on the eighth day of life, and Abraham does so with Yitzkhak (Gen. 17:12; 21:4).

Eighth Day appointment with God

God also instructed Yisrael to hold שְּׁמִינִי עֲצֶרֶת Shemini Atzeret, the convocation of the eighth [day] following the first day of Sukkot, which started the 15th day of God’s seventh month (Lev. 23:39).

The annual memorial of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret recalls the transition from Yisrael’s wandering in the wilderness in tents for 40 years to the new beginning in permanent homes in the Land after crossing the Yarden (Jordan). Sukkot is basically 7+1 just as Passover/Unleavened Bread is 7+1.

This new beginning we celebrate in Sukkot is likened to entering God’s eternal rest (Psalm 95; Hebrews 3–4).

The Sages tried to reconcile the account in Ex. 40:34–35 when God’s Presence entered the Tabernacle on the first day of the month of Abib (first month in God’s calendar) with the priesthood entering the Tabernacle “on the eighth day” (Lev. 9:1).

This harmonization that Moshe took down and put up the Tabernacle during the seven days of priestly consecration smooths over the lesson at the end of Exodus: God’s Presence barred anyone from going into the Tabernacle.

Leviticus 1–8 describes the process God required for the priesthood to approach toward God’s Presence.

Let’s review some of the high points from the last Parashah, Vayiqra

  • The word mostly translated as offering or sacrifice in that section is qorban (plural, qorbanot).
  • The root verb qarab means to go near, so qorban means the thing that takes one near.
  • So, the qorbanot allow priests and others of Yisrael to approach God’s Presence in the Tabernacle.

We look at this and think that this weird but it’s to teach us what being “holy”or sanctified means. It means to be separate. God is so far from us physically and morally, we must approach Him in the way that He asks us to approach Him. God wants to live in the center of the camp but you have to be careful. There is a protocol to approach the King of the Universe and the protocol He set up is not a showing of God’s vindictiveness but God’s mercy. God is showing us how to lift us to His level.

We see in Hebrews that we are to approach God with boldness and confidence but not with brashness or arrogance.

Compare Leviticus 9 to Leviticus 4. Some of the offerings are different by where they are offered and how. You see differences in how the blood is treated as well. The reason for the differences is that the way was not complete yet. Once these sacrifices were done, the way into re-entering the tabernacle was complete.

We see what happens in Leviticus 10 and that it appears as though God is acting capriciously, but they weren’t following God’s instruction. We get a little clue as to what the strange fire was in Leviticus 16.

“Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they had approached the presence of the LORD and died. The LORD said to Moses:  “Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.” (Lev. 16:1–2 NASB)

It is possible that these sons were trying to “draw near” to God on their time table, not God’s, in a similar manner to how the High Priest is to approach God on Yom Kippur.

The mitzvot derived from the instructions to Aharon and his sons include:

  • Priests can’t enter the Tabernacle with unkempt hair (Lev. 10:6).
  • Priests can’t enter the Tabernacle with ripped clothing (Lev. 10:6).
  • Priests can’t leave the Tabernacle while serving (Lev. 10:7).
  • Priests can’t enter the Tabernacle or serve while intoxicated (Lev. 10:9).

The way through the veil was done by Yeshua. The gut-wrenching death he suffered as he was slaughtered was the pathway for us to approach God. He was the ultimate qorban that brought us to God. If we forsake our High Priest, there is no other way in to God’s presence.

Uzzah: Another picture of not respecting the power of God

The haftarah (parallel) reading in 2nd Samuel 6:1–7:17 shows us another example of a “smiting” of someone who didn’t fully respect God’s holiness.

“But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God. David became angry because of the LORD’S outburst against Uzzah, and that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day.” (2Samuel 6:6–8 NASB)

There are a couple of red flags here.

  1. The ark was supposed to reside in the Tabernacle, not some random person’s house.
  2. God instructed the Ark of the Testimony to be carried by priests on poles, not in a cart by animals. A cart carries cargo, regardless of the culture. A palanquin carries someone of honor.
This is a 19th century Korean palanquin, used to carry a person of high status. At least one man would be assigned to each pole to carry the person inside. Photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/36448

The Testimony of God is associated with the Presence of God. The Shekhinah appeared above the “mercy seat” or “atonement/cover” over the Ark containing the Testimony.

The content of the Testimony and the intention of the Giver and recipient of the Testimony is what made the Ark holy, not just the tablets or the form in which the Testimony is presented.

The Presence is powerful but enigmatic. We wouldn’t know Who this powerful One is, what the One wants or why without the Testimony.

“… the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2Cor. 3:6; cf. vv. 2–10)

The Testimony deserves high honor. When we fixate on the form rather than the meaning of the communication, it becomes as nothing. Glory is not in rock or carvings but in what they represent. If it has no meaning, they are merely artifacts or decoration.

The heart of the people and their yearning is what smells good to God, not burning flesh and hair.

The two sons of Aaron didn’t know what had been revealed in Lev. 16 but they had Ex. 40 to Lev 6 and it is God who grants permission to enter His presence.

That is the main lesson of Lev. 10 and 2 Sam 6 to treat God’s presence with honor and respect. We are to pay careful attention to what is in our hearts and what is going on around us before approaching God. We need to follow God’s instructions for how to approach Him, because the Presence and teachings of God deserve respect.

Words behind clean and unclean, they are NOT synonyms for holy and unholy.

The Hebrew word for clean is טָהוֹר tahor (H2889). Tahor doesn’t make one holy ― set apart by God ― but it does keep one holy. Tahor doesn’t block entry toward the Presence. Tahor means “fit to approach.”

The Hebrew word for unclean is טָמֵא tamé (H2931). It doesn’t make one sinful or wicked.

Tamé does blocks entry toward the Presence. However, trying to enter God’s Presence while tamé is wicked. Tamé is “unfit to approach.”

We are not go to God’s presence in an “unclean” state. There are things that happen in life that causes an interruption in being able to approaching God. Basic bodily functions, for example, are not sinful or evil, but they still cause a postponement of one’s connection with God.

Yeshua illustrated the pervasive problem of tamé and the presumption of approaching God while internally tamé in the parable of the wedding garment and the confrontation over paying Roman taxes (Matt. 22:2–21).

abhorrent = שֶׁקֶץ sheqetz (H8263), detestable thing

Summary: Tammy

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